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October 1, 2009
Vol. 67
No. 2

More Insights from Leaders

Take the Extra Step

A teacher leader is first an effective, accomplished teacher. A teacher leader takes that extra step beyond reflection and into scholarship.
More teachers will strive for excellence when there's more reason for them to do so. If we truly honor our teachers, we won't continue paying them poorly, disrespecting their professional opinions, and subjecting them (and our children) to unsafe or shameful working conditions in our schools. If we value our children, we will honor their teachers; we will give them room to excel.

Change the Lens

"School leadership can be shared among many more than we think." This insight was voiced by participants in a secondary school redesign initiative sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Education. Six-person teams from 23 secondary schools created a plan to reform one aspect of their high schools. The teams—a student, a parent, a teacher, a principal, a district administrator, and a local school board member—explored the multifaceted nature of school change.
Participants told us this experience challenged them to see school leadership through a different lens. Rather than being the unique responsibility of those in titled roles (such as the principal), school leadership roles should be nurtured throughout all levels of the school community. Students, teachers, school staff, community members, and other stakeholders potentially have leadership skills that can be tapped.

Focus on Small Powerful Practices

In Ohio, we have been working with more than 60 districts on a continuous improvement framework that helps districts and schools focus on doing a few small, but powerful, practices. In this learning laboratory, schools and districts study and learn on a small scale but still have potentially big outcomes. We have begun to call these "fractal learning experiences." By focusing on a few small, powerful practices, we can examine what is working well, what is not working well, and why—developing what Doug Reeves calls "a sense of inquiry."

Lead Courageously

Successful school leaders are first and foremost courageous. It takes courage to promote, initiate, and lead school and community efforts to redesign our obsolete schools. It takes courage to create a purposeful collaborative leadership team, serving as a member yet providing the authority that enables the team to make decisions that affect learning and teaching.
Courageous leaders lead through best practice. They ensure that the school or district focuses on high expectations and standards, that professional development first focuses on providing time for colleagues to have meaningful discussions about our craft, that all learning is engaging, and that the school provides a healthy, safe, supportive, engaged, and challenging environment for all kids. Above all, courageous leaders fundamentally believe that all kids can learn and all teachers can teach.

Walk Your Talk

As Daniel Goleman tells us, emotional intelligence plays a huge part in an individual's success. Too often, leaders are not clear about who they are, what they believe in, and what they stand for—or against, for that matter. The classic phrase that we have all uttered at some point, "You must walk your talk," speaks louder than we imagine.
To be a leader you must have individuals who are willing to follow. The ability to build and maintain relationships—particularly with those who are not ardent supporters—is the key. I have come to believe this as a result of feedback from former colleagues and students, all of whom remember me as someone they could talk to even when they disagreed with my decisions.

Put Students First

Leadership is about empowering others, inspiring them to get on board as you work to achieve a vision of schooling that puts students at the center. Although a meaningful curriculum that's tied to high standards can certainly help students reach lofty goals, it's not just curriculum or rigorous standards that count. I have been fortunate in my career as a primary school teacher and now as an instructional coach to work with building administrators who put students first, and as a teacher leader I strive to be a true example of student-centered teaching and learning.

Build Professional Relationships

Good leadership, like good teaching, is about professional relationships. It is not about being a friend or a judge. Good education leaders draw out the best in their staff, building on strengths seen and unseen, modeling this for teachers who can then do the same for their students. Praise and recognition when deserved; mentoring and assistance when needed—these are the keys to good leadership.

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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Developing School Leaders
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